Under the Bridge


logan_icon.gif nicole_icon.gif

Scene Title Under the Bridge
Synopsis No matter how one might try to bury the past, history still informs the present.
Date March 21, 2018

The Vault

The Vault is a densely packed antique parlor, decorated with its own wares, full of recovered furniture, ornaments, candle sticks, tea sets, jewelry, collectors pieces, paintings, picture frames, and most strikingly, a canopy of mismatched chandeliers that hang from the ceiling. A certain level of appraisal in the items being made for sale and accepted for sale stops the Vault short of becoming a run of the mill junk store, but the occasional piece of kitsch occasionally washes up despite the owner's best efforts. It's probably best that you don't ask exactly where certain high end pieces came from.

On seemingly random evenings, the Vault opens its doors to a group of dedicated gamblers, space cleared out to host poker nights that can run until dawn if the going is good. Under hanging chandeliers and surrounded by the left over wealth of an old world, men and women drink gin in crystal tumblers and try to better their position in the world through a hand of cards.

There are some rumours and suspicions about the Vault's ties to other criminal activity, such as money laundering, theft, and general criminal economics, and adamant conviction from certain upstanding members of the community that it certainly has nothing to do with any of that.

The Megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon), meaning "big tooth," is an extinct species of shark that lived during the Early Miocene to the end of the Pliocene. The extinction of this creature is said to have come around as the result of many factors: the onset of another ice age likely contributed to its decline, as the megalodon favoured warmer waters. A reduction in diversity in whales, seals, and giant turtles made have caused reduction, too, in the megalodon's primary food source, leading to the most primary causes of species extinction: starvation.

"Know how you feel, mate," Logan says, to his book.

It's one of a few, leather-bounded, embossed title scrubbed away with time. A box sits beside his desk in which some scruffy paperbacks have been rejected and will likely fuel his hearth upstairs if he can't be bothered finding a place to sell them, but the ones stacked at his elbow will be tagged and displayed, less for their content, and more for their aesthetic. However, the one he's reading now is a 1930s book on prehistoric marine life, and a flick through meant that the picture of a giant shark chomping a whale in half caught his attention in these idle hours.

Frowning, sitting at the desk towards the back of the parlor, he turns the page, not looking up from his dinosaur shark research as the front door's indicates a new customer. He's dressed nicely but comfortably, with his jacket over his chair's back, a matched waistcoat buttoned closed over black shirt. His reading glasses don't usually live on his face this long, especially for anything that isn't mathematics and pertaining to his finances, frameless, light-weight things that nevertheless stand as one more physical change, along with dark hair and minor indications of having hit his mid-30s.

Next to his elbow is a cup of tea and an ashtray, in which he taps some ash.

She's looked in the windows nearly every time she's walked past - which is often, considering she lives in the neighborhood - but never been inside. Not due to lack of interest, but due to who owns the place. What makes today different? She couldn't tell you, but Nicole Varlane pulls open the door and makes her way inside the antique shop with the confidence of someone who's meant to be there.

When she's not immediately greeted, she takes a moment to examine a lamp that's on display in the window. It would look nice in her living room, she reckons, though she isn't sure the glass shade will survive her six-year-old. With a quiet sigh, she moves on. She isn't actually here to browse anyway.

Sensible pumps click quietly on the floor tiles as Nicole makes her way to the back. She's not dressed for work, but for warmer weather than they're currently experiencing. A blue, backless, sleeveless dress that falls just above her knee, cinched at her waist by a skinny tan leather belt. No coat, no leggings, as if it were summer out there instead of early spring. Her ability has some passive advantages.

When she spots him, the rhythm of her steps falters. Colette said he would be here, but it could easily have been someone else employed by him, she had reasoned. Actually seeing him again and having no excuse to avoid interacting forces her hands. Making her way to the counter, she makes sure there's a polite smile on her face before she speaks to interrupt him. "Hello."

Aspects of this job that John has a complicated relationship with: customer service. There's a deference that most would normally expect from him as the salesman, that he would absolutely expect, that just sets his nerves on edge, and at the same time, extracting money from people is a fantastic hobby and can only be done through extended conversation and, occasionally, the subtle weaving of his power through their minds. Still, this late in the day, at the sound of foot steps coming so directly for him, he keeps his eyes trained on the page for as long as viable, until the woman — certainly a woman, from the clip of her heels, the subtle scent of perfumed hair and skin — is right at the desk.

And saying hello. He might have said one moment and finished his page, but instead, that familiar, wolfish-pale stare peers straight up to familiar face in pursuit of familiar voice. In his hand, his book snaps shut. Nicole doesn't all the way look real in her light summery dress, in the brittle, cold New York day.

"Hello," he says, now hooking his glasses with a finger to tug them free. "This is a surprise."

"Yes. I suppose it is." For a moment, faintly luminscent blue eyes linger on the cover of the book he was just reading before coming back up to his face. There's a host of different ways she considers to carry this conversation forward. I wanted to see you again. I've been a terrible neighbor. You've been on my mind lately. My sister said I'd find you here. Oh, is this your place? All of them terrible.

"A pleasant one, I hope." Well, that's not the worst thing she could have settled on. Nicole's smile brightens for a moment, genuine in that way he recognizes. Nervous in that way he recognizes, too. "It's good to see you. You look well."

"Well, she says."

Logan sets the book down atop the other books, and glasses atop that, and rises to his feet. Given the meat-grinder that the past seven to weight years have put everyone through, well is probably in the upper tier of compliments, above things like alive, and in one piece, and not destitute. He's seen what happened to much of Staten Island's nightlife in the interim years, anonymous in the shanty towns or lording over shitty trailer parks and gutted warehouses. Well, she says. He wonders if she operates on the same sliding scale as he does.

He's rounded the desk, anyway, because it's weird to do otherwise, and maybe also testing a little her response to his nearness. "You look smashing," he says, as if to show her how that's done. (A touch of reserve to him, behind his expression, as if assessing her for motive behind a smile.)

She doesn't bolt like a frightened rabbit, even if her heart does start to beat faster as he comes around the desk - which she expected, but was still somehow unprepared for - and delivers his compliment. Color touches Nicole's cheeks. "Thank you. And you're just as devastatingly handsome as I remember." Since they're going there, apparently.

There's a moment where she shuts her eyes as if that can block out the urge to blurt out I miss you. It suffices, but she feels foolish when she looks at him again. Curses herself for the fact that he still has that power over her. Any power over her.

Would it be the worst thing in the world?

"I like the place." It's a deflection, and Nicole doesn't try to hide it. But she chooses to be complimentary about it. He's always seemed to like that about her.

Even these days, with a strange sense of inner equilibrium found in a way that Logan isn't sure he ever had while they knew one another, Logan's reading of people is not nuanced. What he usually senses are weak points, and he thinks he can see some hairline fractures already growing. Casually, he lays his ability into her system, registering its changes, where it runs warm and cold, whether that flush to her cheeks is something like adrenaline, or different.

It's very rudimentary, but it does help someone like him.

"Me too," he says. "I like the dress."

It's very automatic, these comments, these plays, so much so that it's almost annoying to him to be subject to them, and he almost pulls back from her, a subtle shift. "Christ, it's been years. Why are any of us still here. What're you doing here."

"Thank you." It may come as a surprise to him to find her nothing but genuine in her embarrassment and her girlish jitters. Or maybe it doesn't. At any rate, his shift in the topic, the frankness of it, feels like permission to drop the pretenses of small talk.

"This city has a gravitational pull, it seems." Nicole shrugs, as though it isn't so strange that any of them would still be here. Truly, only the most stubborn or opportunistic seem to have settled in the ruins of New York. Nicole's a little bit of both.

She could say her daughter's family is here. Probably should. It's one of the biggest reasons she chose to return to the city instead of retreating to some landlocked state where nothing ever happens to live the rest of her life in obscurity. "I just can't seem to stay away."

She hadn't meant for that to be a commentary on how she keeps coming back into his orbit, but it fits.

"A black hole," Logan agrees, archly. "Nothing escapes it."

There's a lapse, then, in the conversation, the kind that is filled with static electricity, strange and unpredictable and a little itchy. He leans aside, then, enough to take up the jacket he'd set aside — finely made, tailored to his form, a little faded in places in the way well-worn garments get — and folds it over an arm. "Come on, I'm closing early, all of a sudden. I need a drink after a hard day's work."

Maybe a little open air will clear some of it.

The electricity's slightly less metaphorical in Nicole's case. To her credit, she doesn't attempt to fill the silence with words. There's only a subtle shift of her shoulders and her fingers curl in toward her palms slowly as it stretches on.

Then, he's grabbing his coat, and rather than dismiss her, he seems to be extending an invitation. Nicole smiles broadly. "I think that sounds like a stellar idea, l-" A tickle in her throat - possibly feigned - causes her to cut off a moment to clear her throat, one hand pressing there delicately, as if it might help. She recovers. "I'll even buy the first round."

Night life in the Safe Zone is a different world to night life prior to its establishment and need. There is something modest about the crowds, most driven back to their homes due to finances, hunger, the cold of the evening. Restaurants have closed early or were never open today, or this week, but some vendors dealing out ready, cheap meals cook on hotplates in vans and under shelters. Community seems to be predicated on people rather than attraction, and most motion is that of people on their way home rather than anywhere in particular.

Walking together, Logan defaults to chatter — a little about the store, about the business, a quick anecdote about surreptitiously stealing crystal-set handles off an amoire to buy the whole thing at a hugely marked down price — and none of it is awkward so much as a little automatic. As if, perhaps, they weren't once members of a crime syndicate, and more.

The place Logan finds for them is obviously favoured and familiar, a place that sells both coffee and liquor at any hour. Despite the chill, Logan draws out a chair for Nicole at the streetside tables, wrought iron and ashtray, and then a shared carafe of deep red wine — on Nicole's dime.

"So," he says, once they've settled, and he's fishing for his cigarettes, "you found me. Not so long after one of the Wolfpuppies found me. One in particular."

The conversation is… pleasant, actually. Nicole hadn't forgotten she enjoyed chatting with him - it's one of the things she enjoyed about spending time with her once-colleague - but she had forgotten just how much. The story about the theft of crystal knobs delights her.

The chill of the outdoor seating area doesn't bother her in the least. If it did, she wouldn't have walked to his store without a coat in the first place. She's got enough charge to be pleasantly warm. Wine is swirling in her glass when he cuts to the chase, and her brows lift, amused. "If you're asking if she had to tell me you were there, or if she put me up to it, the answer is no to both. She did mention that she'd seen you, however, so… I thought it was time to get over myself and pay you a visit."

It should come as very little surprise that Nicole frames whatever their falling out was as her issue, rather than his - she's always flattered his ego that way. This is different in tone, however. It's not a melodramatic laying of blame at her own feet, but an open invitation to pretend that it was something silly she did, and that they can put it behind them.

Fortunately for her — for them both — it can't be anything but behind them, even if the dust has been kicked off it a little. Chatter and an early glass of wine and common connections are all the makings of a present day reunion, and how fleeting it is, how momentary, or if something will settle, is yet to be determined. "I divine a connection between these events," he insists, anyway, a wander of lit cigarette from point A to point B. "Perhaps she inspired a subconscious urge to come by. She holds many candles, does Colette."

And he'd detected just a little wist, when she'd spoken of the abstract chasm formed between himself and her older sister. "I might have left you alone, I suppose," he says. If he'd known where to find her, he means. "Barring poor impulse control."

"Might have," she echoes to put emphasis on might not have. Her shoulders come up in a shrug. "There was nothing subconscious about it," readily admitted to. "In fact, you could say I'm in defiance of her wishes."

There's a conspiratorial sort of grin she shares with him. One arm rests against the back of her chair, as she leans back, glass of wine in her opposite hand. "I believe she promised to roll me in a rug and dump me in the Hudson, actually." In Colette's defense, she was drunk. But also probably not kidding entirely regardless of that fact. No one has ever accused the sisters of a lack of volatility.

"She would never. But I appreciate being the innocent party in all this." Being not stupid and also aware of Colette's— Coletting, Logan can read between the lines with some speed. Logan taps ash out into the tray at the centre of the table, amusement only thinly veiled. "The wide eyed waif, torn between the domineering personalities of two war heroes. What is a girl to do."

Nicole very nearly chokes on her wine at that comment. She presses the back of her hand to her mouth as she laughs openly. "Fuck." Her tongue runs over her teeth, lips still pulled into that grin. "I have missed you." Something about that admission doesn't feel like weakness anymore.

"I should be flattered that she thinks I can compete. That she thinks I'd even try." But she doesn't elaborate on that. He's caught on and she's more than content to make jokes about what her little sister thinks her intent is. "She's changed a lot, but not completely."

Nicole very nearly chokes on her wine at that comment. She presses the back of her hand to her mouth as she laughs openly. "Fuck." Her tongue runs over her teeth, lips still pulled into that grin. "I have missed you." Something about that admission doesn't feel like weakness anymore.

"I should be flattered that she thinks I can compete. That she thinks I'd even try." But she doesn't elaborate on that. He's caught on and she's more than content to make jokes about what her little sister thinks her intent is. "She's changed a lot, but not completely."

Anything but have him to herself, it always seemed. Then again, it isn't as though she ever asked.

"You're right about that." Nicole shakes her head with a small sigh. "I hate it when people call me a war hero." Which isn't an admonishment for his previous joke - she took it for what it was - but more a continuation of his point. "All I did was survive." There's a little bitterness, but it isn't for him, and it's dismissed quickly, cleansed from her palate with red wine.

One leg crossed over the other, her foot bounces slightly, absently. "My sister tell you I went straight?"

"I didn't ask after you," Logan says, in such a casual sort of way as he reaches for his glass. "Couldn't quite get the measure of how things are, with her." That, and the topic of Nicole had come up in the form of a query directed at him, to which his only response had been to deflect and shove the conversation in a different direction.

He shakes his head. "She didn't have to, besides. You're a fed, now, right?"

"Didn't figure you did," Nicole grants with a cant of her head, unruffled. "I figured she volunteered." Because that's just the way Colette is. "But you've done your homework, apparently. Liaison to the President for the SESA," she elaborates with lofty affect. "It's money in my pocket. Food on the table," is the simple explanation. "I have a daughter to look after," is also simple enough to understand.


Logan's head tips to the side, impulse channeled through affect and gesture. "Not enough homework, clearly," he says. There's a chasm between them, certainly, and it's driven there by many competing factors — the nature of their last encounter, divisions of walks of life despite the occasions on which their paths intermingled into one, the sheer amount of time and its vastness between then and now. This news, for a moment, seems to shift it wider.

And it's nothing to do about past relations so much as the way he still has blood under his nails, even if its more figurative these days than literal. Still, maybe that isn't a bad thing, because when he breaks his own thoughtful silence, it's to ask, "How old?"

She could have lied - omitted the existence of her daughter. Considered it strongly, but to what end? So she could get a shag out of it? Have an argument later, maybe, about why she didn't tell him? It serves no purpose. Better he know now.

And the fact that he didn't know was worth the discovery. "Six. I named her Phillipa."

And who's the father is probably the kind of follow up question one might raise if one cared much about fathers, or who shagged who six to seven years ago. Logan's actual impulse is to join in, to the tune of once I went back in time and shagged the wife of my best friend and had a son who I think is also a fed, do you happen to know one another, but just takes a drag of his cigarette instead.

"It suits you," he says, once that's done. "Family. I thought there was something. Work's better when it's just a means to an end, innit."

"I feel cheated." The last of her wine is drained and finally she leans forward again to set the glass back down on the table. She looks at his cigarette for a moment. "I should be running the Nichols Group right now," she quips. "I dream of strangling Gideon d'Sarthe with my bare hands."

But… she doesn't hate what she does now. In fact, she's pursuing the thing that was always her passion. Nicole has always been fond of politics and it's what she's good at. She's rather fond of her life as a whole. It does suit her, as much as she jokes about longing for the days of organized crime. "It's just me and her," she clarifies for the question he didn't ask. But he'd have noticed a wedding ring around her finger by now. Or the tan line of one. He's seen it on her before.

Logan nods to that, carefully neutral. Much like with Colette, not asking about certain things is an almost tactical move with little to do with curiousity or a lack thereof. Conversations are, innately, an exchange of information — and he is holding some things close to his chest.

"The scene's not what it was," he says, by the by, over his wine, the cigarette emanating its steady ribbon of smoke. "Politics amongst thieves are as nuanced as a never ending scrabble for a bridal bouquet, everyone grabbing and snatching, thinking they'll get the prize. There's no real money in it, not like the old days. I mean, it has its charm, I'm not complaining, but I shouldn't want to watch you try to broker negotiations with the rednecks currently swinging their cocks around the Rookery."

Successful cock swinging rednecks, granted. "Then there's Alister Black, who might actually be clinically insane, and some other enterprising minds attempting to carve out names for themselves. I reckon Daniel, god rest his soul, would take one look at it all and pack up his sleigh back to the North Pole in a heart beat."

"I find that a good jolt curtails most of that." He could ask Richard Ray sometime. "And I have no doubt he would be dismayed at the state of affairs. He always did like to see things civilized." Politics, she would say, isn't that either. But there are rules, and she knows them backward and forward. Staten Island has always been a place where none of the rules apply.

"So why do you still do it?" He could have gone the route she did after the war. And while she can and does understand an initial reluctance… "Must still hold some thrill, or you wouldn't bother with them."

"I'm merely a humble purveyor of antique goods," comes Logan's retort, mumbled around his cigarette as he goes to relight it, the embers having smothered out through neglect.

It's very convincing.

He shrugs a shoulder. "There's some money in it, and yeah, keeps my weekends busy." A sudden, jackal smile. "But you're straight, now. I couldn't possibly give you the details."

Tongue plays with the tip of a canine, wolfish in response. She chuckles quietly and leans forward to rest her forearms on the table. "You and I both know I have never been and never will be straight." And she cannot believe he didn't take that set-up and run with it the first time she dangled it.

Nicole grants him that, though. She's better off not knowing about what he does. Although she knows where to go when she wants an unregistered gun now. Thank you, Colette. She lifts one hand off the table and holds it out halfway to him, two fingers held up in a lazy vee. "May I?"

"That sounds like something a straight person might say."

But this is just as fun, Nicole.

Logan relinquishes his cigarette to her, and decides he isn't quite foolish enough to expressly tell the liaison to the President for SESA about his super cool fight club. He has real estate within their jurisdiction, after all, that he needs to protect — and so, he imagines, does she. "But you know where to look when you grow tired of it all. And little Phillipa shoves off to varsity, freeing up your schedule."

Joking aside, John Logan is likely to be the first person Nicole would go to if she was looking for work outside of (mostly) up-and-up politics. There's a breathy little giggle at his little jab when she takes the requested cigarette. "You know I'll always find an opening in my schedule for you." That's as much a flirtation as it is an offer of friendship. A port in a storm.

There's a moment taken to savor the long inhale from the cigarette, though she coughs quietly, just once, at the end of the exhale before offering it back. She hasn't snuck one of those in a long time now. Her lungs are protesting. "Thanks."

Logan accepts the cigarette back, rotating it idly between his fingers. It's curious, words like you know and I'll always, like Logan knows, like she would and should always, like either of them have any decent grasp on the boundaries in place, like either of them ever did before. For a moment, their history seems like a live thing, like they are sitting outside of a cafe all of seven, eight years ago, like nothing has changed at all, and is made all the more dangerous for it.

And the moment passes, or at least, it comes and goes for Logan, who observes his cigarette and takes another breath from it.

"And you know to find me," is the next thing to say, but at least Nicole can be certain that Logan isn't given to just saying niceties, to fill the space. And it's a mean sort of curiousity that has him impulsively add, "Maybe I might meet the family."

Nicole raises her brows. Her instinct is to say you don't have to do that, but she kills it before it can reach her tongue. "If you'd like. I'd be happy to make dinner for you." An excuse to make something other than chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, or macaroni and cheese in cartoon character shapes.

"She'll probably draw something for you." There's a fond little smile, betraying just how much she really likes this motherhood gig of hers. It allows them to cross the bridge over that river of history unscathed, perhaps. For now. "It's her favorite thing to do for people."

Logan does not imagine he'll be getting dinner, or pictures drawn in coloured pencils.

Probably not. Maybe not. And not because Nicole is lying, because he believes her, which surprises him, but because he has some handle on boundaries. New ones, self-imposed, even if Nicole might permit him to wipe the mud off his shoes on her welcome mat. There was a time when he very much enjoyed doing whatever he wanted to people, and it would be a lie to imagine himself as a changed man.

There's a pause while John sifts around for something genuine to say as he watches her, and her small smile, and lands on a sedately easy, smokey, "I'm glad you're happy."

Her freely given affection, in most of its forms, has never been the easiest for him to accept, by her estimations. Nicole looks down at her hands for want of something better to do when her friend seems to fall silent.

Looks up again at that sentiment. They both know she wasn't before. She's come a long way from the Corinthian rooftop. "Are you?" she asks, the question left intentionally ambiguous. Not that she'd expect an honest answer if he was unhappy. That wouldn't fit his image. "Thank you. It's nice to be happy," she admits. "I'm glad I decided to stop in and see you." That's made her happy, too.

"I get my kicks in, from time to time," Logan says, as his answer, a sly sort of smile following. It's not all deflection, either. He's happy to have friendship in the form of the Kozlows, consistent and reliable. Happy for Hana Gitelman to grace him with her presence, whether through long distance text message or something far more intermittent. Happy to make money, and to have his outlets, and to have nice things.

Happiness as a plateau is probably for other people who didn't lose something essential along the way.

He nods, once, to this last thing she says, and finishes off his cigarette. "Then you'll have to do it again sometime," he says, now easing up to stand. In gambling, you walk away from the table before you lose everything you've gained to the house. The way his hands adjust his jacket implies that that's what Logan is doing right now. "Don't be a stranger. I see enough of those come through my doors."

She laughs easily and gets to her feet shortly after he does. Nicole takes one of his hands in hers and squeezes it, leaning in to drop a peck on his cheek. "Take care of yourself. I'll see you again soon."

Logan's hand is cool in hers, but not dead. His fingers twitch inwards like a muscle reflex, returning the grip, and he is still to accept the quick kiss to his face. He responds with a tipped wink to her, a familiar kind of goodbye from him, before he withdraws from her space with a last brush, shoulder to shoulder, and the scent of expensive cologne dispersing in the air, overtaken by damp city street in the same way meagre traffic swallows up the sounds of his shoes striking pavement.

It's when he's a sufficient distance away that he breathes out as if he'd been only taking in and letting out shallow gulps of air, some tension uncoiling rapidly once away from where she could somehow detect it, away from where she can tell that his return to his shop is tantamount to retreat, where privacy and hard liquor and the static present await.

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